Caprice and Ahistoricity
A ‘Spring Thunder’ that turned Teesta Red.
Sonam Wangdi, the revenue inspector in Naxalbari need not have died on that hot summer day in May, 1967. Nor should have died the next day the leading ladies of Naxalbari agitation – ten of them along with two children. Charu Mazumdar was a man in a hurry – this author had later termed him 'General Giap with a gas mask.' More of that later in this essay.
His rationale for seeking to launch a peasant movement in the Bengal, and later possibly in rest of the country was a perfervid notion of the ability of forces of history to change course in India of spatial enormity and cultural diversity.
Worldwide, the year 1968 was of a certain 'revolutionary,' incendiary restiveness. From Sorbonne to Columbia University the message of challenging authority had seemed to spread like prairie fire. In the process, as much as the US National Guards (voluntary uniformed youth themselves) had fired upon fellow youth agitators in campuses like as much an American outback as University of Georgia. As Vietnam's vegetation disappeared on account of 'Agent Orange' and the young children died like flies with Napalm fires on their backs, China appeared the beacon of a global 'revolutionary' surge. But Mao did not desire to have an electric prong that could stir up ferment in the Asian continent. Even as the communists were killed without even a whit of humanism afflicting the consciences of the killers belonging to the nation-states of Malayasia and Indonesia, Mao concentrated on liberating China.
When the Mazumdar followers deemed him to be their own 'Chairman' – the slogan given out by them was 'China's chairman is our chairman – a later delegation sent by Mazumdar to China was berated by Zhou Enlai for the act. More than that, when Mao's tactics meant to grow United Front with KMT on two occasions, Mazumdar was deconstructing the communist movement in Bengal. In fact, the only time he fought an election, he lost his deposit.
Be that as it may, Mazumdat's firm belief that India's, especially Bengal's peasantry was ready for a 'revolution' remained undiminished. It had taken Mao and Zhou a 'Long March' after the decimation of the Communist Party of China's (CPC) first Polit Bureau and almost the whole of the Central Committee to mobilise the Chinese peasantry, Mazumdar severely diseased with chronic asthma did not have the time for any such 'padayatra' that could arouse the somnolent peasantry and other marginal people of the country.
Instead, he wrote. His most famous treatise was, of course, the 'Eight Manifestos.' Clearly, his understanding of the historical forces at play in newly independent India was not fully fledged. His understanding was that the India peasantry, long suppressed by the British appointed 'tax collectors' (post-Permanent Settlement of Lord Cornwsallis) in whom vested rights to land not in the hands of the peasants as in Madras Presidency, Assam, and Coorg (Ryotwari system), but in the hands of landlords and their henchmen (jotedars), can be easily dismantled, by what Mazumdar called 'combat units.'
These were small units of youth – mostly urban – who were to be inducted with supposed arms and ideological training; commanded to launch attacks with their primitive weapons the landlords and jotedars, and kill worst of the lot. This in Mazumdar's fevered mind would make the latter flee leaving their home and hearth, besides their land and create a revolutionary fervour in the countryside, making the poor peasants to rise up in arms and liberate the nation, as it were,
Now let's look at the reality that existed in terms of the history of Indian peasant movements. Prof Bipan Chandra provided us a unique insight into his seminal edited volume, India's Struggle for Freedom. While writing on post-1857 peasant revolts, he stated, "One form of elemental protest, especially when individuals and small groups found that collective action was not possible though their social condition was becoming intolerable, was to take to crime." The line of 'mass annihilation' that Mazumdar advocated in the later stages of the youth upsurge was nothing but what Prof Chandra had expressed.
Naxalbari was, however, was not of the same genre. As Suniti Ghosh, one of the early members of the first Polit Bureau of the faction of Communist Party of India, which Mazumdar led, has written in his Bengali language treatise Naxalbarui: An Evaluation, "…we had said, Naxalbari struggle had followed a mass lne. During the Naxalbari upsurge and after that til 1969 Charu Mazumdar talked about annihilating class and other enemies nor did he take to the 'combat unit."
By the time Mazumdar was arrested alive in July, 1972, the party he had created CPI (M-L) had begun splintering. Fifty years on, Naxalbari movement has to be both evaluated critically and differentiated from the current Maoist movement – whether it can be considered Maoist – considering that Ganapathy (Mopallah Lakshmana Rao) is going the Kondapalli Sitaramaiah way, health-wise. This phase of the CPI (Maoist)'s labours too could seem to undergo a transformation. Will Ganapathy be also expelled like his predecessor, considering that the Hegelian search for 'purity' – the idealism that Karl Marx had critiqued – has little to do with hardcore realism of Mao Zhedong too.
Let us see what objective conditions Marx has talked about, for a communist revolution. A reference to Marx' position on the various insurgencies of 1848 in Central Europe Marx held back from heeding calls for the kind of revolution that some of his fellow radicals in Cologne wanted but that he saw as not fitting with his middle-class readership. He wanted bourgeois democracy to take root against the aristocracy's authoritarianism, believing this was a necessary stage before the proletariat could overthrow the bourgeoisie."
(Courtesy: Udyog, Asansol. The views are strictly personal.)